October 22, 2020

iMonk Classic: Christian without the Adjectives

The Good Shepherd (mosaic), Ravenna

The Good Shepherd (mosaic), Ravenna

Classic iMonk Post
By Michael Spencer
From September 11, 2008

I have been reading a novel, and the protagonist is an Italian immigrant, and Catholic. At the end of a long introductory description, it simply said, “…he was a Christian.”

Now for some reason this struck me. It’s not that I’m enamored with the word. I’m on record as saying we might have good reason to give it a break, considering all the confusion and distortion that accompanies it.

But what actually got my attention was this: in the context of Roman Catholicism, you could simply say this man was a Christian, and that summarized a great deal without further explanation. He believed. He confessed. He communed. He prayed. He loved his family. He knew his calling. He tried to live the Christian life. He was a Christian.

And in this novel, that worked.

You are now allowed to say, “He starting to go Catholic,” because it seems to me that if this book were about a typical evangelical, we would soon have to start piling on the adjectives and hauling out the unique experience stories.

Saying the character was a “Christian,” would say very little about an evangelical protagonist. He would have to have a denominational label, of course. And he would need some descriptors like “a great Christian,” or “a zealous Christian,” or “a man who wanted to change the world for God,” or “a man who believed God was calling him to preach to his neighbors.” He would have to have a unique experience of God, one that was captivating and unique.

In the evangelical version of the story, the Christian would have to be closer to the front of the stage, with his or her own personal mission and story prominently described.

It would be unlikely that “the Faith” would be the solid fact on which his life would be lived. It’s more likely “the Experience” would be taking the reader along for an ever changing ride.

I know that there are Catholics with adjectives, too. I’m sure I’m guilty of a good bit of hyperbole, but I won’t give this up completely.

I think we are too much the stars of the story. It’s God’s story. It’s the Gospel that is the story.

Our stories — our testimonies, our experiences — can’t come to center stage. They can’t upstage Jesus and the Gospel.

You’ve heard it before. Yes, Paul gives his testimony when asked to do so, but does Paul ever make his story the largest story being told? Can anyone imagine Peter and the apostles going out on Pentecost to tell their own experiences.

I think our experiences are the coffee after the main program. The show is Jesus and the Gospel. Our experiences and all those adjectives need to get out of the way, and Jesus needs to be clearly seen.

Not as someone in our story, but as the one who gives us a story to be part of at all.

 

Comments

  1. Yes! I want Jesus to be the story and myself to be a captive in his procession.

  2. He is.

    And we are.

  3. In Transition says

    Love this!!

    I’m new to the site though I’ve probably glanced at it once or twice before. Clicked on a linked story posted by a friend yesterday and read several articles.

    What a great piece to read on my second day here!!

    I am a Christian.

  4. I think our experiences are the coffee after the main program.

    In the spirit of Capon, let’s flesh out that culinary metaphor a bit more. If we have experience as epistemological digestif, let us have tradition as the appetizer, for before we can have anything, it must be given to us by someone. Then, let the Scriptures be main course of the great feast, and our reason overshadowed as the side dish.

    • In Transition says

      Mind if I play along?

      How about God as the full course meal and scripture as the interactive menu?

      • In Transition says

        …oh, and of course Jesus took you to the restaurant and treated you to the meal…but he’s also the meal…oh, and the menu….

        metaphors always break down eventually, don’t they? 🙂

        • …and he is our knife and fork…or maybe we’re HIS knife and fork…and…

          😉

          yeah, metaphors break down eventually, but also have some value!

  5. I’m a Christian.

    But I also have a point of view regarding the gospel and what it means to be a Christian. So I also identify myself as a Lutheran Christian. And a centrist Lutheran Christian, at that.

  6. “Saying the character was a ‘Christian,’ would say very little about an evangelical protagonist. He would have to have a denominational label, of course. And he would need some descriptors… He would have to have a unique experience of God, one that was captivating and unique… In the evangelical version of the story, the Christian would have to be closer to the front of the stage, with his or her own personal mission and story prominently described.”

    I am asking to be flamed, I know it, but I have to weigh in. For over 30 years my Christian walk was conducted on evangelical paths — “Restoration Mvt.” congregation (instrumental, not strongly separatist, but pretty classic in its teaching), InterVarsity Christian fellowship, revivals and mission trips, a Bible College teaching stint, half a library of books by people who once had lunch with C.S. Lewis… the whole nine yards. I speak the lingo and understand much of the criticism of evangelicalism that I read at this site (which I guess is why I keep coming back even though I’m on record as finding the term “fundegelical” very insulting).

    But the critique in this post doesn’t resonate at all with my experience.* At least a simple majority of the evangelicals I’ve interacted with over the years have been of the “Mere Christian” stripe– neither perfect nor perfectly humble, of course, but rather than being in the business of one-upping each other’s testimonies, mostly just trying to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing it was God who worked in them. If there was less talk of “radical grace” (sorry) than their might have been, there was always plenty of forgiveness.

    Why did I leave? In part, it was because evangelicalism was a bad fit for me personally, and in part because (to be perfectly honest) I’d reached a financial crisis point and a local Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation was hiring a church musician. There is plenty I don’t miss — the anti-intellectualism, the over-sentimentalism in worship, and the commercialization of Christian (TM) culture, for instance — but I don’t remember anything like the adjectival Christianity Michael describes here. Or rather, nothing like that which I don’t also see among the Lutherans.

    * (Yeah, the irony of including a list of my own evangelical bona fides in a comment about how I didn’t see that as a particular evangelical failing is not lost on me. But I never said *I* was one of the good evangelicals… 😉 )

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Saying the character was a “Christian,” would say very little about an evangelical protagonist. He would have to have a denominational label, of course. And he would need some descriptors like “a great Christian,” or “a zealous Christian,” or “a man who wanted to change the world for God,” or “a man who believed God was calling him to preach to his neighbors.” He would have to have a unique experience of God, one that was captivating and unique.

    This returns to a continuing theme here at IMonk — Just BEING Christian and living your life as one, instead of the Wretched Urgency of always having to be the On Fire For The LOORD Uber-Uber-CHRISTIAN(TM).